If comments at the Herald-Sun and blogs like BCR were scientific polling -- which naturally they ain't -- the prepared foods tax would seem destined for a bleak future at the polls.
Thus the lobbying campaign for the measure, which is subject to a voter referendum on election day. Tax backers, via a non-profit lobbying group called "A Taste for Durham's Future," took a stab at influencing public opinion on the measure in a kick-off meeting at Hayti Heritage Center yesterday.
As the H-S' Matt Milliken notes in today's coverage:
Thanks to its built-in marketing funds, [County Commission chair Ellen] Reckhow said, the tax could attract more than $35 million in extra visitor spending in its first year.
She characterized the meals tax as progressive, saying that wealthier families spend a bigger proportion of their income on dining out than poorer ones. The proportions are reversed for housing.
Tax backers claim the average expected annual cost of the meals tax is $20.88 per Durham household. Raising $5 million in local property taxes would cost the average household about $40, Reckhow said.
Commenters here at BCR have raised some interesting figures on the progressive vs. regressive nature of the meals tax as opposed to the property tax, noting that the amount spent on prepared meals generally rises with income, whereas the proportion of income spent on housing falls as income rises.
Also key to the backers' argument: a meals tax would garner an estimated 40% of its revenue from non-Durhamites, versus a property tax burden that hits residents and businesses squarely on their pocketbooks.
Opponents from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the conservative-backed Americans for Prosperity shrewdly turned out to the event to voice their opposition, getting some air time and column ink for the opposition.
One opponent of the levy raised the regressivity concern -- but also squarely pointed to her desire to see the tax aimed at health care and education needs, not the civic amenities like museums, trails and greenways, and the like for which the tax is targeted.
The DCABP's displeasure with the measure may be the most important factor in the ultimate success or failure of the initiative at the polls. This spring's County Commission primary election saw Committee-backed candidates draw strong support at the polls.
Given the record turnout among African-Americans expected in light of the presence of Barack Obama on the top of the ticket, the real question for the fall seems to be: can leaders like Reckhow, Bill Bell and others override the Committee's lobbying on the question?
If past trends hold to form, one can expect the relatively progressive and well-off precincts in west-central Durham to support the measure. I wouldn't expect to see North Durhamites turn out in force in support of this, and South Durham is a wildcard.
Without the support of voters in majority-minority district -- voters who've backed Bill Bell for years -- the measure seems to face an uphill battle. The question now comes down to one of lobbying and message. In a year when the national economic picture is mostly cloudy, can the backers of this tax measure muster the support to win?